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Racial Harassment Law

General “harassment”, like yelling, screaming, demeaning language, or unfair workload, is not “unlawful” if based merely on a personality conflict. Such conduct is only illegal if the harasser is motivated by prejudice because of one’s race, sex, age, disability, national origin, sexual orientation, or age.

Racial motive may be proven by showing that others of different races were treated more favorably. Racial motive may also be inferred from discriminatory remarks, stereotypes, racial joking, or slurs.

Also, only harassment that is sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of employment and create a hostile or abusive work environment is illegal. That means that isolated, infrequent, trivial or merely offensive comments would usually not suffice. However, if the comments are severe enough, like egregious racial slurs, they need not be as frequent. Also, if the discriminatory remarks are combined with frequent, general harassment, like yelling, screaming, or use of a demeaning or disrespectful tone, the combination may be sufficient to violate the law.

Since the conduct must be “unwelcome” to violate the law, a case is usually strongest where the employee has told the harasser to stop and has also reported the conduct.

Reporting the conduct is particularly important where the harasser is a co-worker rather than a supervisor. If the harassment is perpetrated by a mere co-worker, you will usually need to show that a supervisory employee knew or should have known of the problem, but failed to take action to correct it. If the harasser is a supervisor, the employer will be liable for his conduct whether it knew about it or not. However, an employer that was unaware of supervisory harassment, and had promulgated and enforced effective anti-harassment policies, will likely avoid liability for punitive damages provided that it takes immediate and effective remedial action once it learns of the situation.

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